Claude Puel accepts Southampton have found it difficult to cope with transfer speculation about club captain Jose Fonte.
The defender is reportedly closing in on a move to West Ham after handing in a transfer request, with the Portugal international not selected by Fonte since January 2.
Southampton host Leicester City on Sunday, having lost four Premier League matches in succession, but it was Fonte's future that dominated the agenda at Puel's pre-match press conference.
"This situation with Jose is difficult for the squad," Puel told reporters on Thursday. "It's difficult for him also. It's not just about this market; it's been since the beginning of the season.
"It's been a difficult situation for Jose because he's always in discussions with the club, about contracts, or no contracts.
"I took a decision at the beginning of this [transfer] window to keep Jose out of the team, to study different possibilities and to protect the team from all this speculation about Jose.
"With this many games it's important to keep focused about our game, not just on the situation of Jose. It's difficult, but the squad can take responsibility."
Southampton have been linked with a move for Liverpool's out-of-favour defender Mamadou Sakho to replace Fonte, but Puel denied a deal for the former Paris Saint-Germain player is planned and insisted he would rather look to options within his squad.
"I know this player but I know nothing about this, it's speculation," Puel said. "We have a reflection about this possibility to see [if we will sign] another centre-back if Jose Fonte left. For the moment it's not the situation, and perhaps we will stay with the same squad, with good opportunities for Jack Stephens or [Florin] Gardos.
"It's a long time with a lot of injuries for Gardos, but he came back for the Under-23s before this game [the 1-0 win against Norwich in the FA Cup] with a good level and we will see if we just have Jack and Florin, or you might see another player if Jose Fonte leaves Southampton.
"Jose has different possibilities. He has the solution and the opportunity to see this, and we will see what the situation is in a few days. He was in training on Thursday morning with the players and he works normally with good spirit, and like a professional. We will see after the situation of Jose.
"We tried Jack against Norwich. It's important to see possibilities for different players and opportunities for the players. Perhaps we will stay with the same squad. We will see this when we reflect."
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.